Editor’s Note: As inauguration day approaches, we wanted to share about disability advocacy and the President-elect. In this interview, New Normal editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer speaks with Jaime Bassman, a pediatric occupational therapist from the Philadelphia area who has been speaking out against the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Jaime shares her perspective about why this nomination is a threat to children with disabilities and their families.
GKM: I saw an amazing video clip of you speaking out against Jeff Sessions’ nomination at a gathering of activists in front of PA Senator Pat Toomey’s office. Can you share about your motivation for speaking out?
JB: The issue of disability rights is important to me both professionally as a occupational therapist who works with children in the early intervention system and personally—I’m the mom of two kids with Individualized Education Plans (IEP). It became important to me after the election to make sure that we don’t lose what is in place for children in terms of education and educational supports. I joined a number of groups online and started following Lisa Lightner’s blog—she is a Special Education Advocate who writes about how parents of kids with disabilities can advocate to our representatives. We parents have plenty of other battles with getting our kids the supports that they need. But when I saw that disability laws and protections are under threat, I wanted to let greater community know what was happening. I started by making phone calls.
GKM: Why is Sessions particularly a threat for our kids?
JB: In 2000, Sessions made a statement on the floor of senate lambasting a federal law known as IDEA that allows disabled children to study alongside their able-bodied peers in school. Looking into his record, it shows that he voted against the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities. When I see this history towards policies related to people with disabilities, it makes me think about whether he will he enforce the ADA if he becomes Attorney General.
GKM: What is the goal of “Tuesdays with Toomey” where you got to speak out about this issue?
JB: Tuesday with Tuesday began after election when constituents in the Greater Philadelphia area got together to try and get Sen. Toomey to listen to their concerns. A group of people to his office every week and focus on different topics of concern. People are determined to get their message out. Last week, over 150 people came out to speak out against Sessions. People were speaking against various civil rights concerns. I brought up the concerns about Sessions record on disability and was given the opportunity to speak out by the event organizers.
GKM: As a parent of a child with special needs myself, I know that many days can be overwhelming just taking care of my child and other family needs. How can we as parents make time to be advocates about issues that are so essential to our children’s lives?
JB: I encourage people to follow Lisa Lightner’s blog–follow what is happening with the legislation so you can be informed. Make a phone call to your representatives if you can—doing so really makes a difference. There are so many groups that are organized and getting their message out from the NAACP to Planned Parenthood. These are very important issues, but we also need to get the message out about threats to the rights of people with disabilities. If each of us can take a small action, we can make a big impact.
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion and loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall.
Jaime Bassman is a pediatric occupational therapist and a consultant for Whole Community Inclusion. Follow her facebook page Azar: Occupational Therapy Supports For Jewish Learning for helpful resources.